Space Shuttle Sonic Booms

The Space Shuttle had a famous double sonic boom when passing overhead during re-entry. This schlieren flow visualization of a model shuttle at Mach 3 reveals the source of the sound: the fore and aft shock waves on the vehicle. The nose of the shuttle generates the strongest shock wave since it is the first part of the vehicle the flow interacts with. This initial shock wave turns the flow outward and around the shuttle. The second boom comes from the back of the shuttle and serves to turn the flow back in to fill the wake behind the shuttle. (The actual shock wave would look a little different than this one because there’s no sting holding the shuttle like there is with the model.) The other major shock wave comes from the shuttle’s wings, but, at least for this Mach number, the wing shock wave merges with the bow shock, making the two indistinguishable. (Image credit: G. Settles, source)

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